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‘Like the hand of God’: Storm-battered California golf course facing uncertain future with climate change looming

Parts of Peter Hansen’s favorite golf course were underwater. Again.

As the Pineapple Express storm swept across Ventura County Sunday, the bus driver from Camarillo drove by the 92-year-old course he described as good for morale because of its shorter, more forgiving holes. Already frustrated the city-owned Ventura track had been closed for more than a year because of damage from 2023 storms, Hansen saw the water and worried he might never tee up there again.

“I said: ‘This isn’t good,’” he recalled thinking.

The course’s future remains at least partly cloudy, but if it doesn’t reopen it won’t be because of the storm unleashed by an atmospheric river.

City officials said the course sustained only about $16,000 of damage, relative pennies compared to the $10 million or more estimated price of repairing destruction incurred by tons of sediment and mud that covered the course after the Santa Clara River flooded it on Jan. 9, 2023.

This time around, sand traps filled with water. Ducks swam in temporary lakes. A tree was lost and a piece of irrigation control equipment was damaged.

“It was pretty minor,” said Stacey Zarazua, the city’s parks and recreation director.

The course opened in 1932 and has built a loyal following, in part because its shorter length acts like balm on golfers’ egos. Its long-term future continues to hinge largely on funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and finding ways to reduce the chance of future flooding.

But city officials said parts of the course could possibly reopen in a short-term fix aimed at regaining some of the revenue lost during the long closure.

It’s not clear exactly when such a reopening could come but the course could be ready for it fairly quickly, said Deputy City Manager Brad “Brick” Conners.

“We think we can do at least nine holes,” he said. The final call on a temporary, partial reopening would come from the City Council, as will the key decisions on repairs and the course’s future.

“The potential exists,” Conners said of a full opening. “There are a variety of things that have to happen.”

Work crews use dump trucks top to remove mounds of dirt at the Buenaventura Golf Course on Friday, July 7, 2023. JUAN CARLO/THE STAR

‘Like the hand of God’

In January 2023, massive rain turned the course into a giant lake, also flooding the snack bar and pro shop. After the water drained, fairways, greens and sand traps were cloaked in thick, suffocating coats of mud and silt.

The sediment was removed and much of the grass survived, sparking hopes the course could survive and reopen. Barriers remain.

This file photo shows how Buenaventura Golf Course looked after it was flooded in January 2023. The Ventura course’s future remains uncertain.
Virtually all of the dozens of sand traps on the course were destroyed in the flood. Two greens also need to be rebuilt in expensive projects that involve irrigation issues and drainage repairs.

“It looks like the hand of God came in and swept them away,” Ventura Mayor Joe Schroeder said of the damaged putting surfaces. “There’s a hole where the green used to be.”

Buenaventura Golf Course in Ventura survived the Pineapple Express storm with minor scars as shown in this photo on Wednesday. Its future remains unclear but could include partial reopening. (Photo: Tom Kisken/VC Star)

The course is located in a floodplain. Conners said the city is in discussions about possible mitigation plans that would help flood-proof the course. Those changes could include some alterations to the layout and would be limited to the course and not the Santa Clara River. The mitigation would need review from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The city gained approval for funding from FEMA but the exact level of reimbursement remains unknown, Conners said. The city’s insurance carrier also needs to validate the funding claim to open the FEMA pipeline.

Big decisions coming

Schroeder said he has been told FEMA will cover 75% of the costs and 15% or more will be covered by other sources, leaving the balance for the city to pay.

He cited the 80,000 rounds of golf once played at Buenaventura yearly in voicing support for the reopening if the FEMA reimbursement money materializes. The opening could come in stages, growing from 9 holes to 12 holes to the full 18, he said.

But the mayor also said mitigation is needed to protect the course from future flooding.

“If we can do that … I’m open to investing in the course,” he said.

City Council Member Liz Campos said she’ll need to see an exact plan before revealing how she’ll vote. But she also thinks the course and other city sites fronting the ocean or river need to be pushed back at least a quarter mile to reduce the chance of future storms creating deja vu.

“All of that area is going to be affected in the next 10 years by climate change,” she said, suggesting the risks of damage will grow.

Hansen, the golfer from Camarillo, drives by the site often. He emails city leaders and others for status updates. The fairways looked so good before the recent storm that he had difficulty understanding why the course hadn’t reopened.

He remains hopeful.

“That’s my favorite course and I can’t wait for it to happen,” he said of the opening.

Tom Kisken covers health care and other news for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at or 805-437-0255.

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